Words by Ed King / Pics by Harry Mills
Due to cabin fever and relative poverty I’m walking to the gig tonight. I’m cold but complicit; Daughter are playing at the O2 Institute, alongside their 4AD label mate Pixx, and it’s a gig I’ve been scratching to see.
For the past fortnight I’ve had Daughter’s sophomore album, Not to Disappear, running through my head. It’s a bit of a monster, a ten track avalanche with videos that would break bigger men than me. And now, after hearing it virtually non-stop for two weeks, I need flesh (to read Ed King’s Birmingham Review of Not to Disappear, click here).
I need time too. I’m late. I’m not going to see Pixx. And as I walk through the park the late frost turns the concrete silver and dangerous, blades of grass so brittle I’m not sure they’ll make it.
The lake is frozen too; the only warm light comes from the capoeira and spoken word workshops at the local arts centre, heads bobbing with unwatched enthusiasm. I feel numb in this kingdom; I swig the miniature bottle of Famous Grouse left over from Christmas, apparently this is ‘not drinking tonight’, and try to both speed up and not fall over (thankfully some photographers keep better time; to see Harry Mills’ full Flickr of Pixx, click here).
I stammer through the back streets of Digbeth and eventually spot the O2 Institute’s main entrance, a trickle of bodies coming in and out of the archway. I’ve definitely missed Pixx, this is half time in action, so I quickly ask the relevant questions to the relevant faces and make my way to the main arena, being stewarded according. Tonight is not just full, it’s busy; allocated seating, you’re an ‘S’ or a ‘B’. There are a lot of groups, conversation and action, and as I stand in the thoroughfare from one bar to the other, with my back rigid against the back wall, a small crowd gathers in front of me and starts to circle, dance and shriek. I am irritated by children in men. There will soon be no room at all.
The stage is set simply, from what I can see over heads and in between shoulders – two mics and a raised drum kit, with gold four spots shining out into the crowd and purple par cans illuminating the dry ice and backdrop. It’s a big room, the O2 Institute’s main hall, with a high ceiling, and without elaborate lighting the stage can look a little sparse (in previous incarnations there was an old church organ that used to sit along the rear of the stage). If Not to Disappear was indeed written with bigger venues in mind, I’m not sure how tonight is going to pan out.
But I’ll find out soon enough, as the limited lights come down to a BIG CHEER from the “sold out” auditorium (as I would be later informed by a gregarious member of the bar staff). The lights come back up with another BIG CHEER, shining down on Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli at the forefront of the stage – decorated in black and red, standing either side of Remi Aguilella’s elevated throne. There is subtle hush, not silence, as Torna slides across the bass line and introduction to ‘How’ – a significant album track from Not to Disappear. And by my count, the room has about twelve seconds…
BAM. White light and searing guitar pierces through the air above the crowd; like a surprise or collision, we stand dumbstruck. ‘How’ is a fierce song on Daughter’s new album, one that helped set the pace for me when I first heard the LP, but live… this is a bona fide rock band on stage.
Four and a half minutes later we are released, briefly, before the sonorous whirling and plucked guitar of ‘Tomorrow’ brings album No1 onto the stage. I’ll admit here, I fu*king love Daughter’s debut (apart from ‘Human’, which, just, didn’t, you know) which makes watching it live a precarious job. I am precious and critic, a terrible duality. But it’s perfect, and I mean perfect. A word I never, ever use.
But so far I can’t fault either the old or the new. Haefeli’s guitar is richer yet absolute in the real world, Aguilella’s pounding percussion marches, rises and falls with Buddy Rich fervour, and Torna’s vocals… I can’t believe this is the same woman I watched stare at the ground whilst singing ‘Peter’.
“..thank you. Thank you. It’s our fifth date and… it’s great to see you out.” Torna’s absurdly soft on stage speaking voice, considering, squeaks out a well received recognition, before the echoed drums and wistful strings of ‘Numbers’ leads into the song’s rolling thunderclaps and exceptional lyrics. This is another sterling album track on Not to Disappear, but, again, live… Christ. “You better, you better, you better, you better make me. Me better, me better. You better make me better.”
The odd swing/miss of the evening comes up next, as an unapologetic techno drum beats out the pace for ‘No Care’ – another new born offering, and the benchmark (to me) of any Daughter to come.
It is a superb song, but live, tonight, there’s something missing. Powerful, yes, but as effective as it has been through my earphones for the past fortnight, no. And I really wanted this to be ‘the moment’. After the bell rings, the audience are silent for a second longer than they should be.
The set rolls across old to new, with most of my drunk spider notes saying ‘better live’ and ‘ET’s vocals’, before I am schooled again by a staggering live delivery of ‘Human’. As I mentioned, not my favourite on If You Leave, and a track I’ll shamefacedly admit I sometimes skip when it comes on. But to repeat myself, watching it live…
Whatever you think they are, whatever place they held in your head, whatever weaknesses and strengths you think Daughter have to celebrate or challenge, they are a rock band. A solid, tight, punchy and powerful rock band. I stand here watching a track I don’t like and I get it, now I get it. You just have to see this on stage. And absorb as much of it as you can.
Torna is a beautiful lyricist and songwriter, one with heartbreaking insight; she means something, and delivers her words with such precision and poignancy that they’re impossible to avoid. Igor Haefeli has taken that thread and made a unique blanket that no other band, not even on their own labels’ roster (which is the perfect place for Daughter) can compare to – it is his blood on their hands here, and it stains something quite incredible both on the recordings and off. Then, like some hybrid of Greek mythology, Animal, and Seattle grunge, you have Remi Aguilella – who, quite rightly so, finishes Daughter’s main set tonight with a spotlight and drum solo.
After a glorious 16 song set, the gig ends a single ‘Made of Stone’ encore – a perhaps unplanned denouement that would have been the biggest relief to the venue’s security. I flit around the lovesick hall, trying to verify the “NAME OF TRACK NO5??’ (incorrectly, it was track No10 I was after) as the entire crowd jams itself into, and out of, the main exit. I’m sober, with the cheap rye having worn off a while ago, and prepare myself for the hour long return journey. ‘Home’.
All the way back I listen to both Daughter’s albums on Shuffle, appreciating aspects from both the debut and sophomore that I’d either missed or ignored. And I’m not to know it tonight but this resurgence will last for a while, it will even increase – the happy hangover of the O2 Institute gig keeping me close to this impressive twenty track plus portfolio. Thank you for that.
As I cross through the park in reverse order, Canadian geese are standing in the centre of the frozen lake – churlish, isolated and defiant. I watch them for a while, blowing the smoke from my ‘walk-home-joint’ across the sandpaper air and into the fluorescent lights surrounding the arts centre walls. It’s an oddly pointless endevour in below freezing temperatures, but I’m curious and distracted, a little lost, setting fire to our insides for fun.
And as I eventually reach my front door, in eerily film soundtrack timing, I realise I’ve not listened to the track on If You Leave that I would usually have started to walk with. In fact, most of my attention is on Not to Disappear. I didn’t skip ‘Human’ either.
Not to Disappear is out now, released by 4AD. For more on Daughter, including online purchase points, visit http://www.4ad.com/artists/daughter
Visit the official Daughter website at http://ohdaughter.com/
For more on Pixx, visit http://www.4ad.com/artists/110
For more from 4AD, visit http://www.4ad.com/
For more on Kilimanjaro Live, visit http://www.kilimanjarolive.co.uk/
For more from the O2 Institute, including full event listings & online tickets sales, visit http://o2institutebirmingham.co.uk/